By AMANDA GREENE
Since the future prison chapel at Pender Correctional Institution in Burgaw began as a community effort, with more than 100 local churches and individuals giving money, its groundbreaking today (March 14) was no different.
“At most groundbreakings, you see folks with their shiny silver or gold shovels turning a little bit of dirt,” said the prison’s contract Chaplain Jimmy Joseph. “But we have a lot of dirt to move today so you all get to be the mules.”
In the prison yard, about 30 corrections officials, leaders with N.C. Baptist Men, the Burgaw mayor and community members grabbed a long thick rope attached to an old farm plow with Joseph at the helm.
“And pull,” the chaplain shouted. Tug-of-war-style, attendees in coats, ties and skirts leaned back on their rope section, pulling that plow and breaking ground on the 4,200 square foot facility. The community has been planning and fundraising for this day for the last six years.
In his speech chronicling the long road to building the chapel, retired Chaplain James Spiritosanto said: “It took King Solomon 46 years to build the Temple, and I’m happy to report, we are ahead of schedule.”
The need for a chapel became apparent to the prison’s chaplains over years of trying to schedule the hundreds of inmates who wanted to participate in the prison’s faith curriculum into a classroom that will only fit 30 at a time.
The new building’s auditorium will seat 200. There are 768 inmates in the prison, Joseph said.
The chapel will also have two classrooms, offices for the chaplaincy staff, restrooms and storage space. A large stained glass window in the gable of the auditorium will capture eastern light in the mornings. The building will be a wood-framed structure with brick veneer to match the other buildings in the prison.
With the help of volunteer labor from N.C. Baptist Men, Joseph hopes to be cutting a grand opening ribbon on the chapel in six months. Pender’s chapel project is the first construction task inside a prison for the N.C. Baptist Men.
“We found it to be a worthy project. How could we say no?” said Gaylon Moss, coordinator of disaster relief and volunteerism for the group.
This project was also a first for the North Carolina Department of Corrections. Usually, the prison system takes bids from licensed contractors to complete prison building projects. But the majority of labor on this project will be volunteers, along with area contractors who are overseeing the construction.
His voice shaking with emotion, the project’s contractor Billy Soots told attendees, “I hope this project is a light to this community, to this campus and enriches the kingdom of God.”